April 14, 2017

5 facts on how Americans view the Bible and other religious texts

Godong/UIG via Getty Images
Godong/UIG via Getty Images

This year, the Jewish festival of Passover – April 10 to 18 – coincides with the Christian celebration of Easter. And Easter, somewhat unusually, falls on April 16 in both the Orthodox and Western calendars.

Both Passover and Easter are based on biblical accounts. Passover commemorates the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt, as described in the Hebrew Scriptures. Easter marks the resurrection of Jesus, as described in the Christian Gospels. In this important season for both traditions, here are five key facts about Americans and their holy texts.

1 About a third of Americans (35%) say they read scripture at least once a week, while 45% seldom or never read scripture, according to 2014 data from our Religious Landscape Study. Frequency of reading scripture differs widely among religious groups. Majorities of Jehovah’s Witnesses (88%), Mormons (77%), evangelical Protestants (63%) and members of historically black Protestant churches (61%) say they read scripture at least once a week. By contrast, 65% of Jews say they seldom or never read scripture.

2 Three-quarters of Christians say they believe the Bible is the word of God. Eight-in-ten Muslims (83%) say the Quran is the word of God, according to the 2014 survey. Far fewer Jews (37%) say they view the Torah as the word of God.

3 Christians, who make up a majority of U.S. adults (71%), are divided over how to interpret the Bible. While about four-in-ten Christians (39%) say the Bible’s text is the word of God and should be taken literally, 36% say it should not be interpreted literally or express another or no opinion. A separate 18% of Christians view the Bible as a book written by men, not God.

4 In 2014, about four-in-ten Christians (42%) said reading the Bible or other religious materials is an essential part of what being Christian means to them personally. An additional 37% say reading the Bible is important but not essential to being a Christian, and 21% say reading the Bible is not an important part of their Christian identity.

5 Seven-in-ten Americans (71%) know the Bible teaches that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. A similar share know that Moses was the biblical figure who led the Exodus from Egypt, and 63% could identify Genesis as the first book of the Bible, according to our 2010 religious knowledge survey. But fewer than half of adults (45%) could name all four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), and only four-in-ten (39%) identified Job as the biblical figure known for remaining obedient to God despite extraordinary suffering.

Regarding other religious texts, four-in-ten Americans knew that Jesus appeared to followers in the Americas according to the Book of Mormon, and 54% correctly name the Quran as the holy book of Islam.

Topics: Religion and Society, Religious Beliefs and Practices, Christians and Christianity, Muslims and Islam, Jews and Judaism

  1. Photo of Abigail Geiger

    is an associate digital producer and writer for Pew Research Center.

15 Comments

  1. Anonymous3 months ago

    We learned several distinctions of how to interpret the Scriptures while in the seminary! We learned that the Scriptures, both Old Testament and New were quote ” The Word of God in the words of men” ie.God inspired the authors to write down or prophesy what He wished to reveal! However, a further distinction needs to be made between INSPIRATION and REVELATION! The authors of the Scriptures were moved ie. Inspired by the Spirit but the truth of what God is Revealing needs to be discovered through an understanding of the context in which they were written as well as the use of the contemporary sciences and scriptural exegesis! This is truly a challenge for anyone wishing to discern the meaning of a scriptural passage! This means that anyone wishing to to understand what God is revealing must use their God given gift of reason as well as prayer and meditation! There is no easy way or short cut which too many people use!

  2. Anonymous3 months ago

    Hello Mis Geiger.

    The report should have have also taken into account that in the case of Catholics who attend Mass on Sundays they have the Bible read to them at least once a week… This tradition goes back to the very beginnings of the church when the levels of literacy and book distribution were scarce or none.

    Thank you

    1. Anonymous3 months ago

      I have been to many a Catholic mass. Precious little scripture is read. It’s all liturgy, which is not the Bible.

      1. Anonymous3 months ago

        Homily=bible

  3. Ditty Nicolaides3 months ago

    “This year, the Jewish festival of Passover – April 10 to 18 – coincides with the Christian celebration of Easter…”

    Passover and Easter coincide every year. They are determined by the same event.

    1. Anonymous3 months ago

      They do not always coincide. The holidays were determined by the same event only until the year 325, when the Council of Nicaea set the date of Easter to be the Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox (March 21). Passover is determined by the Hebrew calendar; it begins on the full moon in the month of Nissan, which usually, but not always, is the same as the Easter full moon.
      In fact, just last year Easter was on March 27, and Passover eve was on April 21. In 2024, Easter will be March 31 and Passover eve on April 21.

  4. Anonymous3 months ago

    Religions over the last 10,000 years have come and gone. Nothing says that one religion has it over another religion. Reading literature proposed by one religion as the “word of God” is not productive and actually inhibits spiritual growth.
    When the ultimate religion is found I am sure it will also be popular and have a “book” of it’s own.
    Until then I will give the “bible” a pass.

  5. Anonymous3 months ago

    What I am curious about would be what percentage of people who read scripture regularly believe that scripture requires interpretation and analysis as opposed to the percentage who believe that scripture should be taken literally and without interpretation and analysis.

  6. Anonymous3 months ago

    As long as there are competing religious belief systems (tribes), “Peace on Earth and Good Will to Men/Women/Children will never come.

    1. Anonymous3 months ago

      That competition you speak of stems from the ideology in everything, not religion.

  7. Francis Miniter3 months ago

    “A separate 18% of Christians view the Bible as a book written by men, not God.”

    I would have said that the Bible is a compendium of many books from two traditions, Jewish and early Christian, which were written by many men (or women) over centuries of time, and that neither Jews nor Christians can agree on what books should be included in their respective canonical compilations.

    1. Anonymous3 months ago

      The old and new testaments are sales brochures for their respective religions. They (archeologists, historians, textualists, carbon dating experts) have yet to find evidence/proof outside the bible for YHWH, abraham, moses, the exodus, the flood, the israelis war with canaanites, Jesus, his resurrection, and most of Jesus teachings were taken from Moses stories, most were copied and pasted into the new testament.

      Most outside accounts of the most popular stories are from earlier dates or didn’t happen when and where they said. Nazareth was non existent during Jesus time, all the references to Jesus and nazareth are fictional. Certainly the big bang and evolution has disproved/replaced the genesis stories. Some of the people and places in the bible actually existed but the stories are blown out of proportion or happened 1000 yrs before the bible to different people. If that much of the bible is provably false how can we trust any of it?

      1. Anonymous3 months ago

        On the contrary, archaeology and ancient history have demonstrated over and over again the historicity of the biblical accounts. Go to Israel and see for yourself. Or read the many defenses of the Bible online.

        1. Anonymous3 months ago

          Yes, and modern archaeology continues to find clear signs of Biblical texts.

      2. Anonymous3 months ago

        The single most important gift ok Christianity is simply happiness, People who attend church regularly generally are happier than non believers.